Learning & Development

How Apprenticeships Close Skills Gaps and Expand Opportunity

Organizations are always on the lookout for innovative training opportunities that can help close the skills gap. One such company is the Dow Chemical Company (Dow), which has successfully run apprenticeship programs across Europe for 40 years and has recently reached an important milestone with its U.S. program.

This spring, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) recognized Dow’s U.S. program as having met the national standards of apprenticeship. The recognition is “further evidence that our Dow U.S. Apprenticeship Program is successfully advancing Dow’s vision of increasing the availability of highly skilled technical workers to support business growth and advance skill development in manufacturing and engineering,” said Andrew Liveris, chairman and chief executive officer of Dow.
Launched as a pilot in 2015, Dow’s U.S. program provides formal education and on-the-job training and supports science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education and Dow’s STEM career pathways. There are nearly 100 apprentices in the program in Michigan, California, Texas, and Louisiana, and that number is expected to climb to 130 by the end of this calendar year.
“Apprenticeship programs provide an opportunity for the public and private sectors to partner in a meaningful way and to prepare the next generation of Americans for tomorrow’s high-skilled, high-paying advanced manufacturing careers. Through the Dow U.S. Apprenticeship Program, we are building our workforce of tomorrow and strengthening our global competitiveness,” said Johanna Soderstrom, chief human resources officer, corporate vice president Human Resources and Aviation.
“Apprenticeships are a tried and true workforce development strategy,” said Liveris. “Employers that utilize apprentices report higher productivity, higher retention rates, and a substantial return on investment. The program supports Dow’s growth in the U.S. by building a talent pipeline in difficult-to-fill technical roles.”
Specifically, Dow’s U.S. Apprenticeship Program is geared toward developing skills in individuals who want to pursue a career as an instrument electrical technician, process technician, or millwright.
The program leverages partnerships between Dow, local community colleges, and veterans’ groups. Apprentices participate in at least 3 years of training and on-the-job experience. Their tuition is funded by Dow, and they are paid “a competitive salary that increases incrementally over their tenure in the program,” the company explains.
Upon successful completion of the program, apprentices earn an associate’s degree in Process Technology, Instrument Technology, or Industrial Maintenance and are evaluated for employment opportunities within the company.
Apprentices who complete registered apprenticeships earn a certificate of completion from the DOL. The DOL describes registered apprenticeships as “innovative work-based learning and post-secondary earn-and-learn models.”
The agency says that registered apprenticeship differs from other types of work-based training in several ways: “(1) participants who are newly hired (or already employed) earn wages from employers during training; (2) programs must meet national standards for registration with the [DOL] (or federally recognized state apprenticeship agencies); (3) programs provide on-the-job learning and job-related technical instruction; (4) on-the-job learning is conducted in the work setting under the direction of one or more of the employer’s personnel; and (5) training results in an industry-recognized credential.”
A wide range of organizations, such as businesses, employer, and industry associations; state and local workforce development agencies; colleges; the military; and economic development organizations partner to offer registered apprenticeship programs, according to the DOL.
In general, program length varies from 1 to 6 years, the DOL explains, and participants in registered apprenticeship programs typically receive 2,000 hours of on-the-job training and at least 144 hours of related classroom instruction.